Clark County candidates debate $15 minumum wage

Candidates who will appear on the March primary and November general election ballots discussed crime, taxes and minimum wage on Monday before more than 60 residents who attended a political forum at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Michael Sergio Gilbert and Matthew Kirk, Democratic candidates for the 10th Ohio Senate seat that includes Clark, Greene and Madison counties, both said minimum wage should be increased to $15.

But Republicans Reps. Kyle Koehler and candidate Bob Hackett, who was recently appointed to the 10th district seat, disagreed.

Hackett said the key is improving education and job training and ensuring people are job ready.

“If you look at the states that have high minimum wages, they’re losing jobs. They’re really struggling,” Hackett said. “We want to create a scenario where minimum wage isn’t the issue. The issue if we bring jobs, if we bring competition, competition from workers will drive up the wages … If you arbitrarily raise the minimum wage, companies leave.”

Koehler, Hackett, Gilbert and Kirk were among 15 candidates at the forum. More than 60 local residents and elected officials attended the event.

The federal hourly minimum wage is currently $7.25. In Ohio, minimum wage is $8.10. Proposals have included raising the minimum wage to $12 or $15 an hour.

Gilbert said Ohio’s minimum wage should be raised because individuals and families cannot survive earning $8.10 an hour.

“I’m not married, I’m single. But even I can not make it on $10 an hour … I’m sure that everyone out there will agree with me that it is virtually impossible to make ends meet at the current (minimum) wage,” Gilbert said.

He also said politicians have voted to maximize their salaries and often make promises they don’t keep.

Kirk agreed.

He said improvements need to be made to public education and residents with a high school diplomas are not prepared for the workforce and are taking low-wage jobs.

Kirk also said the problem is made worse because of the high costs of college, which leave those who do attend with debt.

“A high school diploma does not mean what it used to mean. You used to be able to graduate from school and go out and get a job and have a career,” Kirk said. “… What we have now is a culture of young people where there’s not a lot of hope … Yes, wages need to go up and so does the access to opportunity.”

Koehler, of the 79th District and an owner of KK Tool in Springfield, said rather than worrying about raising the minimum wage, the focus should be on raising kids who are worth more than the minimum wage.

He said if Ohio raises minimum wage to $15 an hour, companies like KK Tool will never again hire somebody who doesn’t have training.

Koehler said a minimum wage hike to $15 will drive up the salaries of other employees with more experience and hurt area manufacturing businesses.

“ You would send all of our jobs to China. We need to raise up kids who are worth more than minimum wage,” Koehler said.

Alex Wendt, a Democratic candidate for the 79th District, said minimum wage should increase.

Wendt said officials need to make sure schools prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century to ensure the workforce is worth more than the minimum wage.

He also said officials should provide incentives to businesses that invest in the community.

Others at the forum were incumbent Sheriff Gene Kelly, a Democrat, who will face Deborah K. Burchett, a Republican, in November.

Former Clark County Department of Jobs and Family Services Director Bob Suver and local attorney Melissa Tuttle, both Republicans, attended the forum and will appear on the March primary ballot.

Both are vying to unseat Ron Vincent, a Democrat who has served as clerk of courts since 1976. Vincent did not attend the forum.

Democratic candidates seeking seats on the Clark County commission are: Roger Tackett, Darrell Jackson and Dale Henry. The winner of the March primary will face Republican Melanie Flax Wilt.

Another seat is also on the November ballot — Republican New Carlisle City Councilman Lowell McGlothin will challenge Democratic County Commissioner David Herier.

McGlothin did not attend the forum.

Kelly said crime is down and the jail population is the lowest its been since the jail opened.

He said programs in the jail such as the Re-Entry Coalition, a fatherhood initiative, mental health programs and drug treatment are helping inmates stay out of trouble after they are released.

Kelly also said the use of Narcan, which can reverse overdoses on heroin and some pain killers, has saved about 10 lives.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Kelly said.

Burchett, who worked at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office for 29 years, said the crime rate is up, and not enough is being done to help people before they land in jail.

She said law enforcement needs to step up crime prevention efforts, work more with the schools and in the community.

“If it’s not done on the outside, just doing it in the jail is not helping anything. You have to do it on the outside,” Burchett said.